Yanni Huffnagel has had an incredible career in college basketball. The current assistant coach of the Nevada Wolfpack has previously served as assistant basketball coach for California, Vanderbilt, Harvard and Oklahoma.
The 35-year-old Cornell graduated grew up in Scarsdale. And although it was always his dream to make it to the NBA, he was cut from his varsity basketball team in high school. He may not have been the best basketball player, but his ability to mentor and teach has transformed him into one of the hottest commodities in the country.
During his tenure at Harvard, he helped phenom Jeremy Lin lead the team to its first Ivy League Championship. Lin now plays in the NBA.
Huffnagel, who is of Jewish descent, readily admits that although Jewish NBA players are virtually non-existent, there are over 30 Division 1 coaches. “Coaching has little to do with your height or ability or athleticism,” said Huffnagel. He’s right. Because some of the most highly-anticipated showdowns back in the day were between Jewish stalwarts Red Auerbach and Red Holzman.
University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner says he has no doubts that Huffnagel will go far. “He’s a heck of a recruiter and motivator,” said Pastner. University of Oklahoma coach Jeff Caple describes Huffnagel as a “ball of energy.” Capel quickly snatched him up after realizing his potential.
Taylor Griffin, brother of NBA player Blake Griffin, says that Huffnagel is one of the most generous and hardworking guys he’s ever known. While at Oklahoma, he made himself indispensable to players. “He was always accommodating,” said Griffin. “Whatever we needed, he was always there to make sure we had it.”
Huffnagel is simply biding his time these days. Unlike other young coaching phenoms — Shaka Smart, whose stock skyrocketed after coaching Virginia Commonwealth to a final four and Butler’s Brad Stevens, who went to back-to-back NCAA finals — Huffnagel is still awaiting a head coaching spot. Most who know him don’t think he’ll be waiting too much longer.